HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A triathlon program for children that was created by the family of a Sandy Hook shooting victim is getting some help from another Connecticut charity as it expands across the state and beyond.
Bikes for Kids is providing 200 bicycles to be used in the Race4Chase Youth Triathlon program, which was created by the parents of 7-year-old Chase Kowalski.
Chase competed in his first youth triathlon — a 20-yard swim, a half-mile bike ride and a third-of-a-mile run — just months before he was killed along 25 others at Sandy Hook Elementary school in December 2012.
Race4Chase began in 2014 as a way for his parents to honor his memory. It expanded to eight sites in 2015. There are now 14 Race4Chase programs in Connecticut and another in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
The six-week day camps, which began in late June, are free. Counselors teach the campers how to swim, ride a bike and the basics of running. The 450 Connecticut campers all will come together on Aug. 6 for a day of short-course triathlon racing at Camp Sloper in Southington.
The campers are chosen based on need, whether that is a financial issue, a self-esteem issue, a weight issue or something else, said Kevin Grimes, the executive director of the foundation.
“Some don’t know how to swim; some have never even been on a bike,” Grimes said. “So our biggest needs each year are coaches and bicycles.”
That’s where Bikes for Kids comes in. The program has fixed up and given away more than 19,000 bicycles since it was founded in 1989.
Children in the program who don’t have a bicycle will be able to take one of the donated bikes home. The remaining bicycles will stay with the camps.
Heather Theriault, of Clinton, has two daughters in the program this summer at the Valley Shore YMCA in Westbrook. Her oldest, 11-year-old Lily Rose, went through the camp last year after going through some problems with bullying and self-esteem at school. It changed her life, Theriault said.
“She would write in her journal these wonderful things like, ‘I’m strong. I’m confident. I can push myself. I know I can do this,” Theriault said. “To see your kid become confident and feel good about themselves is worth a million dollars and more.”
Theriault, who said she works three jobs and can’t afford to pay for camps for her children, plans to raise money for the Race4Chase program this month by completing her own Iron Man-distance triathlon along the Connecticut coast.